Alice (Adrienne King), Bill (Harry Crosby), Brenda (Laurie Bartram), Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), Ned (Mark Nelson), and Jack, played by Golden Globe winner Kevin Bacon (Taking Chance), are six counselors helping to reopen Camp Crystal Lake, a long dormant sleep away camp. In 1957, the camp suffered a tragedy, when a young boy, Jason Voorhees (Ari Lehman), who had a disability, was not being watched by camp staff and drowned. Jason was the son of the camp cook, Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), who suffered a mental break down after Jason’s death.
“Friday the 13th” opens during the summer of 1958; two counselors leave a sing-a-long, and sneak off to be alone together. Their fun will not last long, because within a minute, they’re murdered by an unseen killer. Since that time, whenever someone has tried to open the camp, which is located in New Jersey, strange things have happened, and the camp closes, almost as quickly as it opens. The local town residents refer to the camp as ‘camp blood.’ During one scene in the beginning of the film, local resident, Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), as he’s known, warns the new camp cook, Annie (Robbi Morgan), that there is a death curse on the place. Annie ignores the ramblings of Crazy Ralph, and hitches a ride to the road that leads to the camp. Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), the new owner, has heard all of the same rumors, and has decided to ignore them as well. He doesn’t believe that the camp is cursed, and he has been working tirelessly, to try and get the grounds ready for campers who will be arriving in two weeks. (As an aside: “Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Blairstown, New Jersey, where the movie was filmed, is still in operation).”
Steve leaves his new counselors with a good deal of work to do, as he takes off for town to run some errands. Work is quickly forgotten, and the teens begin to explore where they’ll be staying for the next number of weeks. The teens, however, as the viewer knows, are not alone, they’re being watched. If that weren’t bad enough, Ned, the practical joker of the group, among several of his other antics, does something not at all funny. He pretends to drown. All he can hope to achieve with that stupid act, is to anger, who or what, is watching the counselors. Later that same evening, a bad thunderstorm forces everyone indoors. Jack and Marcie go off to a cabin to spend time alone; Ned wanders off by himself, and Alice, Bill, and Brenda play a game of strip monopoly. Throughout the night, however, a killer will strike repeatedly, in an attempt to once more cause enough mayhem, in order for Camp Crystal Lake to be closed. Those seeking help will of course find that the phone lines are not working, and all of the cars are having mechanical trouble. Who or what is disposing of the camp counselors? Will anyone survive the evening of horrors?
The original “Friday the 13th” is different, in a number of ways, from the films that would follow. Jason, for one, is linked, and rightfully so, to the franchise as a whole. He is the killer who wears the hockey mask, and wields a machete to vanquish those who are foolish enough to enter the camp grounds. During the 95 minute runtime of the original, he wasn’t the focal point. In fact, while his one appearance in the original is impactful, the filmmakers might’ve decided that the movie was a standalone. Of course, the money the film earned at the box office all but guaranteed a sequel. Imagine, however, if Jason had been relegated to that one scene he does appear in. Would the debate be, among horror film fans, as to his actual validity? Was Jason real, or was he merely the product of a nightmare?
Trivia buffs take note: The first person to ever die in a “Friday the 13th” film was actor Willie Adams; he played Barry, the camp counselor who sneaks off with his girlfriend during the opening scene. The working title of the script was called “Long Night at Camp Blood.” Harry Crosby, who plays camp counselor Bill, is the son of the late, legendary Oscar winner Bing Crosby (Going My Way). Filming at the camp site lasted 28 days. In the evenings, most of the cast and crew, would return to their hotel rooms, however, Tom Savini and his special makeup effects assistant Taso N. Stavrakis (Dawn of the Dead) would stay at the camp grounds. The two would alternate watching the same couple of movies on VHS, to pass the time. The score composed by Harry Manfredini (House), which is mainly comprised of ki ki ki ma ma ma is featured only when the killer is present, with the exception of the ending of the film. Two time Oscar winner Sally Field (Places in the Heart) auditioned, and was turned down for the role of Alice Hardy. In addition, Oscar winner Estelle Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde) was asked to play the part of Mrs. Voorhees, but politely declined. The role wound up being given to Betsy Palmer, who although she had made a number of appearances on television, “Friday the 13th” marked her first film role, since the 1959 film “The Last Angry Man.” (As an aside: I had the pleasure of meeting Betsy Palmer, at a horror fan film convention, and she couldn’t have been nicer. She answered a few questions I had for her, took a picture with me, and autographed a picture for me).
The film was directed by Sean S. Cunningham (The Last House on the Left), admittedly, because he thought it would make him enough money to pay off his bills; he was right, and then some. “Friday the 13th” was budgeted for an estimated $550,000 and would proceed to gross approximately $40,000,000. The horror hit was written by three time Emmy winner Vic Miller (A Stranger Is Watching). Premiering on May 9, 1980, it launched a franchise that, as of the writing of this post, includes: nine sequels; one crossover film, where Jason squares off against fellow horror icon, Freddy Krueger; a 2009 remake of the original; as well as the two time Emmy nominated television series of the same name, which ran from October 3, 1987 through May 14, 1990.
“Friday the 13th,” when viewed today, is rather tame compared to contemporary horror films. The total body count during the film was ten people. Of that number, half of the deaths that occur, happen off screen, which helped to cut down on unnecessary excess, the type which the sequels would revel in. There is blood and gore, but not to the level of today’s films, or even film’s that have been produced in the past two decades. The kills that are shown on screen, were orchestrated by the outstanding, Tom Savini (Day of the Dead), and although dated, they still hold up well all these years later. For example, the demise of poor Kevin Bacon’s character Jack, should be especially pleasing to hardcore fans of the genre. The final edit of the film delivers a movie which is well paced, and maintains a level of suspense throughout its runtime, that, coupled with some genuine scares, drives the film forward toward its conclusion.